Maternity and Parental Leave Laws in Iowa

Iowa's Civil Rights Act provides the right to take time off for pregnancy and childbirth, as does the Family and Medical Leave Act.

By , J.D., UC Berkeley School of Law

Do you need time off work for pregnancy, childbirth, or parenting? If you work in Iowa, the Iowa Civil Rights Act gives employees the right to take unpaid time off for pregnancy and childbirth. So does the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA).

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act (PDA) also prohibits your employer from discriminating against you because of your pregnancy—which might also give you the right to take time off work in some cases. And the 2023 Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA) strengthens these protections.

Here's what you need to know about your maternity and parental leave rights in Iowa.

Maternity Leave in Iowa

There are two types of laws that protect you if you need pregnancy leave: laws that require employers to allow you to take pregnancy leave, and laws that prohibit pregnancy discrimination.

Pregnancy Disability Leave Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act

The Iowa Civil Rights Act prohibits employment discrimination, including discrimination on the basis of sex and pregnancy. (Iowa Code §216.6 2.) Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, employers in Iowa with at least four employees must treat a serious pregnancy-related issue as a "temporary disability." This includes any disability caused or contributed to by an employee's:

  • pregnancy
  • miscarriage
  • childbirth, or
  • legal abortion.

Under this civil rights law, employers must let employees take time off when they're unable to work due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions.

Unless you're entitled to take time off another way (for example, using your employer's sick leave policy or temporary disability insurance program), your employer must allow you to take up to eight weeks of leave when you're temporarily disabled by pregnancy or childbirth.

To use the time off allowed under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, you're required to give your employer "timely notice" of your leave (and how long you expect to be off). If your leave period changes, your employer must approve the change before it takes effect. And you can be required to provide medical certification that you can't work due to pregnancy or a related condition.

Pregnancy Leave Under the Federal Family and Medical Leave Act

The FMLA gives eligible employees the right to take up to 12 weeks off work in one year for pregnancy, including prenatal care and maternity leave. But the FMLA applies only to employers with at least 50 employees. To be eligible for FMLA leave, you must have worked for a covered employer:

  • for at least 12 months, and
  • for at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months immediately preceding your leave.

You can use the 12 weeks of FMLA for leave during your pregnancy and after, for recovery from childbirth and bonding with your child. For example, if you use three weeks of FMLA leave during your pregnancy, you'd still have nine weeks available for maternity or parental leave.

The FMLA allows you to take leave intermittently if it's medically necessary. For example, if you have morning sickness or a prenatal check-up, you don't have to take a whole day off. You're entitled to use a couple of hours of your FMLA leave, then return to work.

(Learn more about the FMLA, including eligibility requirements, in our article on FMLA leave for pregnancy and disability.)

Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Your Right to Take Leave

The federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act doesn't require employers to give pregnant employees time off work. Instead, the PDA requires employers to treat employees who can't work due to pregnancy the same as employees temporarily disabled for other reasons, such as illness or surgery. So, if your employer allows other employees to take time off for surgery or other medical conditions, you must also be allowed to take time off for pregnancy if you need to.

New Protections Under the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act

You might also be entitled to take time off work for pregnancy under the federal Pregnant Workers Fairness Act (PWFA). The PWFA covers the following employers:

  • private and public sector employers with at least 15 employees
  • federal agencies or Congressional staff
  • employment agencies, and
  • labor organizations.

The PWFA requires covered employers to provide reasonable accommodations when an employee needs them due to pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions. Under this law, reasonable accommodations can include time off work.

Parenting Leave in Iowa Under the FMLA

Although some states have their own parental leave laws, Iowa doesn't. But if you're eligible for FMLA leave, you can use it to take time off for parenting.

In addition to providing time off for medical needs related to pregnancy and childbirth, the FMLA also gives you the right to take time off to bond with a new child. That parental leave (sometimes paternity leave) is part of your total 12-week FMLA leave.

If you want to use your parenting leave under the FMLA a little at a time, you must get permission from your employer. You aren't automatically entitled to take intermittent parental leave (like you can with medical leave during pregnancy).

And if you happen to be married to someone who works for the same company, your employer can require you and your spouse to share the 12 weeks of FMLA parenting leave. So, if you use six weeks of FMLA parenting leave after your baby is born, your spouse would only have six weeks of FMLA leave available for parenting.

Whatever portion of your own 12 weeks of FMLA leave you don't use for parenting will still be available to you for other reasons—including your own serious health condition. The same is true for your spouse.

Getting Paid During Maternity and Parental Leave in Iowa

Under the Iowa Civil Rights Act, pregnancy, childbirth, and related conditions must be treated as temporary disabilities with respect to any of the following that the employer provides:

So if you have TDI coverage through your employer, you can use that policy to get paid during the medical portion of your leave. (Iowa Code §216 2(b).)

And while FMLA leave is unpaid, the law allows you to choose to use your accrued paid leave (like sick days, vacation, or PTO) to get paid during your leave. And the law allows your employer to require you to use this paid time off.

Your employer might also offer additional benefits for new parents like:

  • paid maternity and paternity leave, or
  • parental benefits.

Talk to your HR representative or manager (and check your employee handbook) to find out what types of leave are available to you.

If your employer doesn't offer temporary or short-term disability insurance (SDI) benefits, you can still get coverage. Learn how to get a private SDI policy to cover your pregnancy.

Updated July 26, 2023

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